Frustrated with the lack of high-quality vegan shoes that could compete in the market alongside high fashion brands, Costa Rica native and Parsons graduate Francisca Pineda took her years of fashion designing experience in NYC and launched her footwear brand, Bhava Studio, to create ethical shoes that would fill that void.
Pineda didn’t initially set out to design vegan-friendly footwear; she was fully entrenched in the fashion industry and was living her life as she describes as a typical, UN-conscious fashion designer working day and night in an industry she did not question.
She says, “Sometimes you get to meet these beautiful wise old souls that seem to be born understanding and practicing compassion in every aspect of their life, that was not me. I definitely got sucked into the superficiality of a well paying job in NY and traveling all around the world for large brands. I thought I had it all figured out and was quite pleased with myself until everything changed overnight. I had just been promoted to oversee all accessories when I started noticing that the off-gassing from the China made product was giving me headaches, so I started doing some research on the toxicity and manufacturing practices of the factories we worked with. These factories worked with the major brands that constitute the American fashion industry today. I started delving into what exactly goes into the goods that we buy from mass manufacturers and that started my understanding of the reality of the industry I was once so proud to work for.”
This compelled her to begin coursework in Ethical Fashion at F.I.T and she continued to tirelessly research the unsustainable aspects of the fashion industry.
A brand is born
Ultimately realizing that she was participating and perpetuating an unethical industry she says, “I personally feel that the leather industry is the most unethical and toxic of all the areas in the fashion industry and could no longer justify making my income from the suffering of the animals, the deadly working conditions in the tanneries, and the uninhabitable dead zones that the leather industry has created in the poorest nations.” It was this awakening that inspired her to create her aptly named line, Bhava, which is a sanskrit word meaning inner feeling or intention. The name is perfectly suited given Pineda’s journey creating ethical fashion and how that translates through to the consumer.
No strangers to innovations in fabrics and textiles, vegan designers are constantly pushing the envelope in what’s possible in ethical fashion and have enabled a once stagnant and deficient market to gain momentum and popularity, even among mainstream consumers.
Among the many eco-friendly textiles available, Pineda opts to use only materials at the apex of quality. In her line you’ll find materials crafted from recycled Japanese ultra suede, which some believe to be more durable and beautiful than animal based suede; vegan faux leathers from one of Italy’s most sustainable manufactures; and hand painted snake embossed cork, an entirely new material to make it’s way to the footwear world, which will debut this year and is the material Pineda is most excited about.
While demand is up and access to newer vegan and eco-friendly materials is better than it has ever been, Pineda concedes that it can still be a challenge.
“Everyday has ups and downs, but I think we have the most amazing customers in the world, and it is because of them, and because of the challenge of finding high quality vegan shoes for myself, that I hope to continue on this journey for years to come. Finding high quality durable materials that can stand up in beauty and hand feel of designer shoes in the mainstream market is definitely our biggest challenge, but because that is where we see our differentiating factor, we believe that we can spare no expense.”
Another challenge Pineda frequently encounters, as I’m sure other high-end vegan designers and consumers can attest to, is the notion that animal leathers are of the highest quality and anything else is cheap imitation. She says, “This misconception is probably the main hurdle for vegan footwear. I could go on and on about this, but people are quite surprised to learn that most leather does in fact come from and is chemically prepared in the poorest and most toxic places in the world.”
Consumers who think they’re buying the highest-quality Italian leathers may also be victims of false marketing as Pineda notes, “In fact, according to Al Jazeera, Italy is the largest importer of Bangladeshi leather which is then dyed and resold to “luxury” designer houses as for “Italian” labeled luxury accessories.”
So who is the Bhava girl?
She is someone who purchases for longevity because she values quality and timeless design. She is calculated in her consumer choices because she knows that with every dollar she spends she is casting a vote and wants to vote for brands that are ethical in their treatment of people, animals, and our fragile ecosystem. She eschews fast fashion for quality made, well-crafted pieces and isn’t one to jump into trends because, as Pineda says, “She has a mind of her own, and quite frankly better things to do with her time. She is confident and career minded and appreciates that she can rely on Bhava to complete her professional wardrobe with unique attention to detail. She is no fashion victim, and has high standards of comfort so she likes her high heels reasonable, and her loves chic flats.”
Among the flats, booties, and sandals offered in the collection is the 3-in-1 Editor Boot, the newest addition to the Bhava line. The Editor is a sleek and versatile convertible boot that can be worn at three different heights: ankle, knee, and over-the-knee. Available in two colors, black or tan, the Editor is suitable for just about any occasion from work to a casual day shopping or out at night. Pineda especially loves the Editor because, “I travel often and sometimes from a tropical to a winter climate so the ability to go from a casual bootie with jeans to cozy tall boots for a special dinner date in the NY winter makes for endless outfit options.”
Inform and inspire
We love Bhava for their beautiful and thoughtful designs, but also because Pineda is so connected to what she’s doing and how she can use her knowledge as an instrument of inspiration and change within the fashion industry. Pineda leads an annual intimate ten-day Eco-Fashion retreat to her home country of Costa Rica to give others a behind the scenes look at talented local artisans, wildlife conservation initiatives, community based art projects through the Art School of Puerto Viejo, and to connect like minded people with a supportive network of entrepreneurs.
“When I started learning about issues in my industry I felt the need to share and inform others in a way that would inspire rather than judge. We learn crafts like batik painting and loom weaving, work with local artisans and of course we go on many animal expeditions with dolphins, sloths, and many more.”
Get your hands on a pair of Editor Boots by visiting the Bhava website here and because we love our readers, enjoy 10% off the Editor Boot by using code VILDA at checkout.